One of the drawbacks of a life captured on film is the irrefutable evidence of time passing. The camera can hide many things, but not the fact that people, even famous people, grow old. Right before our eyes.
With the possible exception of Robin Williams.
Even as his hairline retreated and the wrinkles appeared, Williams, who exploded into the collective consciousness at 27 as the irrepressible rainbow-suspendered alien in “Mork and Mindy,” never seemed to age. Williams dies Monday at 63.
He exuded a manic energy that, if anything, seemed even more youthful as the years passed. His eyes sparked with ideas that you could all but see streaking past like a thousand bright blue fish. His comedic signature was the free-form, free-wheeling monologue, a frothy torrent of words and voices and sounds that poured out of him in no apparent order, save his own essential, mysterious understanding of comedy.
He was more than a star. He was a fixed point in the universe.
No matter how many times we are reminded of the relentlessly democratic nature of mortality, there are people who seem exempt. For those of us who came of age with “Mork and Mindy,” who spent our lives watching the zany sitcom star shift to successful stand-up comedian, then to serious film star and back again to TV, Robin Williams was one of them.
His brain defied gravity, his face was made of rubber, the laughter he inspired surely must echo far into deep space and his death seems almost impossible.
We knew that he, like so many of his colleagues, battled drugs and alcohol and had a somewhat scandalous love life. Yet there he was, year after year, reinventing himself, resurrecting himself, finding some other way to channel what must have been an exhausting if inexhaustible will to perform.
He gave voice to Vietnam, carpe diem, a drag-queen nanny and a blue genie; he brought board games and penguins and Teddy Roosevelt to life. He was nominated for an Oscar for “Good Morning, Vietnam” and “Dead Poets Society” before winning with “Good Will Hunting.”
It’s hard to think of another actor who has moved so fluidly through so many genres, whose roles remain so disparate, so desperate, so high-percentage iconic.
Robin Williams was 63 when he died, but we will never have a chance to see him grow old. Because he never did.